Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea
BANGKOK—A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
Philippines to put both U.S. and China on notice over glider incident
After China returned an underwater glider it seized from the U.S. Navy off the coast of the Philippines, the Philippine defense secretary said his government would put both Washington and Beijing on notice against what he called their unauthorized presence in the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
It’s the latest twist in Manila’s attempt to move away from Washington’s security umbrella and mend ties with China, its rival claimant in the South China Sea.
Washington says the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, was in international waters off Subic Bay when a Chinese ship snatched one of its underwater gliders last week. The Pentagon said the seizure was unlawful and vowed the U.S. will continue to “fly, sail, and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law allows.”
China accused the U.S. of “sending aircraft and vessels to conduct close-in reconnaissance and military surveys in waters facing China, which poses threats to China’s sovereignty and security,” according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said both must seek Manila’s permission for activities inside its EEZ. The U.S. insists on freedom of navigation and says no prior notice is required for passing ships, while China claims almost the entire South China Sea without ever having provided the exact coordinates of how far that is.
Lorenzana said the notice will be served because “we have to know what they are doing in our area.” Singling out the U.S., Lorenzana said if they are conducting hydrographic survey, they “should tell us what they are seeing there.”
He has said earlier that the glider incident was a matter between the U.S. and China.
Duterte floats oil revenue sharing with China
As relations between the Philippines and China continue to improve, President Rodrigo Duterte has floated the idea of sharing revenue with Beijing from any oil deposits that may be found in South China Sea waters.
However, his spokesman Ernesto Abella quickly clarified that there is no government policy for joint exploration of resources and they may refer to business-to-business agreements.
Any joint exploration initiatives have so far run into political obstacles over who has sovereignty in the disputed waters. Although claimants are in principle open to setting aside disputes in favor of economic partnership, practical considerations such as national security concerns take priority.
In Manila, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua has offered a $14.4 million grant that Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said would be used to procure small arms, fast boats and nigh vision goggles. In addition, China also offered a $500 million (P25 billion) soft loan for the government’s anti-terrorism and illegal drug crackdowns, Lorenzana said.
The Chinese offers are in contrast to Washington’s deferring a decision on a major aid package for the Philippines over concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs, which has left thousands dead.
Malaysia appoints point person for South China Sea
Malaysia has appointed its navy chief as a point person in territorial disputes with a direct line to both the U.S. and China.
Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced the appointment of Royal Malaysian Navy Chief Adm. Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, and also urged the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to band together to stand up to any foreign pressure.
“Alone, we cannot face them, but as a coalition of 10 countries, I am confident that even China cannot take us lightly or ignore our stand,” he said.
Malaysia, like the Philippines, has sought to benefit from economic ties with Beijing, while carefully navigating between the U.S. and China in trying to protect its claims in the South China Sea.
A ship tracking app purportedly showed the 4,000-ton Chinese coast guard vessel CCG3402 earlier this month replacing the CCG 1123 at the South Luconia Shoals inside Malaysia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, where the Chinese have maintained presence for more than a year despite objections from Kuala Lumpur.
China starts civilian flights to Paracels
China has begun daily civilian flights to Sansha city on Woody Island, also known as Yongxing Dao, in the disputed Paracels that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The first charter business flight took off from Haikou in Hainan province on Thursday and landed at Yongxing airport, which was expanded in May, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
In October, a U.S. warship passed near Woody and nearby Triton islands to challenge China’s exclusive claim to baseline waters encompassing the Paracels.
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