‘China dredging 10 reefs’
China is dredging 10 reefs to provide filling material for artificial islands that it is building on seven reefs in the West Philippine Sea, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disclosed on Wednesday.
Carpio, at the forum “Perspectives on Issues Involving the West Philippine Sea” held in Camp Aguinaldo, spoke about the extent of China’s land reclamation activities and the legal implications of these on countries with territorial claims in the strategic waterway.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea, 90 percent of which China insists is part of its territory.
Carpio urged the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) to assume jurisdiction over the complaint filed by the Philippines against China to preserve the integrity of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“If we don’t apply it (Unclos), then the constitution for the oceans and seas of our planet cannot also apply to any maritime dispute in the rest of the oceans and seas of the world,” Carpio said.
“It would be the beginning of the end of Unclos, the rule of the naval cannon will prevail, and the oceans and seas [will] no longer [be under] the rule of law,” he stressed.
Carpio said the coastal countries in the region were already locked in an arms race.
China is building artificial islands at Kagitingan Reef (international name: Fiery Cross Reef), Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef) Burgos Reef (Gaven Reef), Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), McKeenan Reef (Hughes Reef), Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and Zamora Reef (Subi Reef)—all in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) recognized under the Unclos.
“However, China has actually also dredged 10 other reefs for filling material for the seven reefs [it] occupies,” Carpio said.
He did not name the 10 other reefs or say in which part of the South China Sea they are located.
Carpio said there were two kinds of disputes prevailing in the South China Sea.
One is a territorial dispute that is rooted in conflicting territorial claims over islands, rocks and reefs above sea water at high tide.
The other is a maritime dispute that is rooted in conflicting claims over maritime zones.
All the six states that are claiming parts or all of the South China Sea are parties to the Unclos, which defines the rights and responsibilities of countries with respect to their use of the world’s oceans.
China has said its land reclamation activities are meant to improve the working and living conditions of its personnel stationed at the reefs, for search and rescue operations, disaster prevention and mitigation, and to provide better services to vessels of China and her neighbors sailing in the South China Sea.
Beijing has also admitted building military facilities on the reefs to defend civilian structures there.
This, Carpio said, was similar to China’s explanation in 1995 that it occupied Panganiban Reef to provide “shelter” to its fishermen, but the development later turned out to be a military outpost.
China is now reclaiming Panganiban Reef and turning it into a 500-hectare military facility, Carpio said.
The Philippines, he said, will be left with a sliver of water as its territorial sea and EEZ if China’s nine-dash-line claim, or claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, is allowed.
This will also mean that the Philippines and China will have a very long common sea border, from Balabac Island in southern Palawan province to Yamin Island in northern Batanes province.
The dash lines are just 64 km from Balabac Island, 70 km from the coast of Burgos, Ilocos Norte province, and 44 km from Yamin Island.
Carpio also said the Chinese Coast Guard had prevented Philippine ships from undertaking oil and gas surveys at Recto Bank (Reed Bank), which is completely within the Philippines’ EEZ.
China’s extensive claim also cuts through Malampaya, the Philippines’ largest operating gas field that supplies 40 percent of the energy requirement of Luzon, Carpio said.
Control of the sea
China, Carpio said, wants to control the South China Sea for economic and military purposes.
It wants all the fisheries, oil, gas and mineral resources in parts of the sea encompassed by its nine dash lines, he said.
China, he said, has the largest fishing fleet in the world with 7,000 boats, and is the largest net importer of oil in the world.
China also wants the South China Sea as a sanctuary for its nuclear-armed submarines—free from the surveillance by US submarine-hunting Poseidon airplanes or US nuclear attack submarines, Carpio said.
The land reclamation in the heavily disputed Spratly archipelago is not a knee-jerk response but part of China’s long-term grand design, he said.
If the world court would not assume jurisdiction, then the Philippines would be forced to acquire warships, warplanes, antiship missiles, resources that should go to education, infrastructure, and social services, he said.
“No matter how many warships we buy, we cannot defeat China. We can only hope to deter China but there is no way we can win a total war,” he said.
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