PH urged to rethink China ties
The Philippines should rethink relations with China following reports Beijing was planning to build a radar station on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Saturday.
Carpio said China’s move could escalate militarization in the disputed South China Sea to back its excessive maritime claims in the region.
The planned environmental monitoring station on Panatag Shoal may just be an initial step in a creeping occupation, as seen in previous Chinese incursions at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, he said.
Eventually, China may declare an air defense identification zone (Adiz), through which Beijing may impose restrictions on flights, including the interception of foreign aircraft, Carpio said.
“These developments call for a national debate, and consensus, on how the nation should proceed with its bilateral relations with China,” said Carpio, who has been a leading voice urging the government to assert its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been careful not to antagonize China, and has made efforts to improve bilateral relations dampened by the territorial wrangling.
He has also publicly rebuked China’s rival the United States, the country’s longtime security ally that has warned against perceived Chinese provocation in the sea region.
In October, Mr. Duterte said he asserted to Chinese President Xi Jinping the Philippines ownership of Panatag Shoal, located just 230 kilometers off the Zambales coast and is well within the Philippines’ EEZ.
While China also reiterated its ownership of the shoal, it subsequently allowed Filipino fishermen to return to their fishing activities in the traditional fishing grounds.
The shoal has been under China’s control since a standoff between its ships and Filipino vessels in 2012, but a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines last year.
Beijing has rejected the ruling, but has appeared to soften following Mr. Duterte’s peace overtures.
Carpio cited how China had turned Kagitingan Reef from a meter-high outcrop in the Spratlys into a naval base in 2015 through reclamation.
Today, China is able to deploy flights to and from the reef.
“In 1987, the Chinese erected a radar weather station on Fiery Cross Reef (an outcrop in the Spratlys just a meter above water) ostensibly to help Unesco’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) global oceanic survey,” he said.
“In 2014 to 2015, the Chinese turned that weather station into a 270-hectare military air naval base,” Carpio said.
He said China may well be doing the same on Panatag Shoal. A radar station on the shoal would complete China’s radar coverage over the expanse of the South China Sea.
“Now it’s the turn of Scarborough Shoal,” Carpio said.
“China will install an environmental monitoring station (aka radar station) on Scarborough Shoal. A radar station on Scarborough Shoal will immediately complete China’s radar coverage of the entire South China Sea. China can then impose an Adiz in the South China Sea,” he said.
Through an Adiz, China, the most weaponized nation among claimants to the disputed waters, may utilize missile silos it had earlier built over its bases on South China Sea islands.
“China will use its HQ-9 surface to air missiles to enforce the Adiz. These missiles are now installed on Woody Island in the Paracels. China also just completed building on Zamora (Subi) Reef, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and Fiery Cross Reef concrete hexagonal structures, with retractable roofs, to house HQ-9 missile batteries,” Carpio said.
The Philippines also protested China’s missile deployment on Woody Island in February last year, saying it violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and earlier declarations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations against aggressive action in the disputed waters.
Carpio said China will use these military installations “to enforce the nine-dash lines as China’s national boundaries in the South China Sea.”
“That means China will grab 80 percent of Philippine EEZ and 100 percent of Philippine extended continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Apart from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government was aware of the reports and that it was seeking clarification from Beijing. But he did not say what the government would do after that.
“We are seeking information from Chinese authorities to clarify the accuracy of the report,” Abella said.
The reports came as President Duterte met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in Davao City on Friday.
In that meeting, both leaders reaffirmed their countries’ “stronger bilateral ties” with Mr. Duterte underscoring the importance of the peaceful settlement of disputes.
Reports of China’s latest plan to build new structures in the area came shortly after the country’s defense chief expressed concern over the presence of a Chinese survey ship on Benham Rise, which belongs to the Philippines according to a 2012 United Nations ruling.
China has since said it was only exercising innocent passage in the area and would respect the country’s rights over it.
Mr. Duterte had downplayed the issue, and said he had an agreement with China to allow its research ships in the area. —With a report from Leila B. Salaverria